If you think our youth are not interested in politics, think again. Over five hundred students filled the theatre at Magee Secondary School this morning. They came to listen to the all-candidates debate by Vancouver-Quilchena politicians.
The candidates included Andrew Wilkinson of the BC Liberals, a medical doctor and lawyer who is lucky enough to inherit the Liberal stronghold riding. Matt Toner, BC NDP candidate for Vancouver-False Creek filled in for Nicholas Scapillati, who was double booked. Damian Kettlewell, a third-time candidate, brought strong arguments for the BC Green Party. And four-time MP Bill Clarke represented the BC Conservatives.
Students Sam Klein and Carol Lee moderated the debate, which was well prepared and organized. The crowd was animated, and often reacted with abundant applause.
Conservative Bill Clarke was audience’s darling
Surprisingly, conservative candidate Bill Clarke received the bulk of the applause. Though seemingly least prepared for the debate–Clarke only jumped into race last week–his dry jokes got him the sympathy bonus of the young audience.
Not that they will vote for him–when Clarke asked the crowd who would be voting, only a few hands went up, probably because most students were under 18.
How to graduate from university debt-free?
The students started by asking a list of prepared questions to each candidate. Regarding education, Wilkinson repeatedly said the BC government created 33,000 more secondary education spaces. He said student admission fees are the fourth lowest in the country.
“The best idea is to have rich parents,” joked Clarke, who has nine children and 19 grandchildren, making the crowd roar with laughter.
With house prices soaring, how to make Vancouver a desirable place to live?
Wilkinson agreed that no house in this neighbourhood is less than $1.5 million, and often three times more. But he warned against driving down the price of houses, because it would make many people who are counting on their investments angry. Prices will eventually drift down, he said.
Toner surprisingly said something that is rarely mentioned when condo living is discussed: People with children are often trapped in their small downtown condos. It is not so easy to move from a starting home into a second, larger one anymore. Places here are more expensive than in Manhattan, and that can’t go on, he said.
Clarke agreed prices are awful and they are going to stay. He said some of his children have gone to East Vancouver, which is still more affordable. Clarke would like to warn people who move to the suburbs, of commuting costs.
Kettlewell hyped Vancouver as a fantastic place to live. It is clean, beautiful, with great education opportunities. He thinks we need more density, so young people can buy in and seniors can stay.
How will you create new jobs for young people?
Wilkinson said job opportunities are abundant. You just have to look. Vancouver is a service centre for Western Canada. But, you need qualifications to get good work these days, and good training.
“It’s not easy to anticipate the skills of the future. Listen to your teachers!” he said.
Toner criticized the Liberals’ focus on oil and gas. We’re good at many other things, like TV and digital media, he said.
Clarke mentioned a shortage of technical workers, running machinery of all sorts. “You shouldn’t expect a job with suit and tie,” he said and told a joke about a skilled tradesperson who charged $150 an hour while working at a lawyer’s house. “Geez, I don’t even charge $150 an hour,” said the lawyer. “I didn’t do that when I was a lawyer, either,” said the skilled worker. The joke made the theatre again roar with laughter.
alternate order would have improved the debate
Generally, Wilkinson and Toner were more argumentative than Kettlewell and Clarke, which might be related to the order of the speakers. Unfortunately, the student moderators asked all questions in the same order of succession; BC Liberals, NDP, Conservatives, Green Party–giving the latter two less time to properly answer questions.
One time, when Clarke was requested by the moderators to stop answering after less than a minute, the audience scanted “let him speak,” and Wilkinson stood up for Clarke and told the moderators to let him finish his thoughts.
After questions about health care, fracking, the sale of BC Place and teacher strikes, the debate came to an issue that seemed to be most interesting to the audience.
Should B.C. legalize marijuana?
Wilkinson referred to one of his wife’s relatives, a police officer in Washington State. The officer said he didn’t mind marijuana cafes, but questions how to determine if someone is too stoned to drive. Wilkinson questioned how drugs would be supplied nationally and internationally. Because the decision makers in this issue are federal, the legalization of marijuana is a minor issue for the B.C. government, he said.
According to Toner, who said his grandfather was a rum-runner during prohibition, regulatory questions easily can be dealt with by government.
“We need to decriminalize marijuna. A broad number of people in this province supports it,” he said. Taxing it or not is not the point at this stage.
Clarke said he does not smoke, but does not think youth who want to smoke pot should be threatened with a criminal record. People are not going to smoke or not smoke because of legalization, he said.
Kettlewell praised Clarke’s wise answer and took a surprisingly fatherly tone. “Green is in favour, but we don’t encourage the use of it. It’s not good for your health,” Kettlewell, who has three young children, said. He urged the youth to smoke responsively, if at all, and “get the money back into the right hands.”
Conclusion: a plea for change by three of the contenders
In his final remarks, Wilkinson, a father of three, said he is concerned about young people not having the same opportunities as he had. Though flat broke at the age of 30, Wilkinson persevered and urged the youth to do so, as well.
“My government offers a strong access to education,” he said and thanked the youth for caring so much about politics.
Toner, who was the only candidate to rise at the beginning and end of the debate, said the 1990s was a long time ago and we need to need to talk about now.
“My party offers time for a change. Not a bad change. We are not socialist hoards,” he said, referring to the recent debate to shed the word socialism from the NDP constitution.
“Nicholas [Scapillati] is a great guy, he has a good heart and a good brain,” he said about the local candidate.
Clarke agreed with Toner it is time for a change, but not back to NDP!
“What we need now is good conservative policies and stop wasteful spending and balance the budgets,” said Clarke.
Kettlewell also said the time for change is now. Though chances to win the Quilchena riding are small, he reminded the students that a victory in some Vancouver Island ridings may be pending.
“This debate was more passionate than the debate at the Board of Trade downtown. Thank you for this,” he praised the students!
Reported by Katja De Bock
The students will be blogging about the event on Global BC’s website.